Winter can be a tough time to get through with its longer nights and often colder temperatures. While most of us are fortunate enough to be able to put on warmer clothes, sit by a heater or fireplace, and sip on a cup of hot Earl Grey tea like a starship captain, we might sometimes overlook the needs of one of our cherished family members–our pet dog. Most canines may be more resourceful than a two year-old, but they need just as much love and care to keep warm and healthy during the winter.
If this is your first time owning a dog, don’t be alarmed. On a scale of the impossible, the difficulty of accomplishing the tips in this article range from 0.5 Tom Cruises to 1.5 Tom Cruises. For experienced dog owners, this would be a good time to review or it might serve as a reminder of things on your to-do list. There are four major things to know about keeping your dog warm this winter: 1) Keep your dogs healthy, 2) Keep your dogs groomed, 3) Keep your dogs sheltered, and 4) Keep your dogs safe when going outside.
A Healthy Dog is a Happy Dog
A vital part of caring for your dog during the winter is to make sure your pet is healthy. Just like humans, dogs should get a medical check up once or twice a year to make sure if your pet has any ailments for you to be aware of and adequately prepare for the winter. Older dogs, for instance, may develop some form of arthritis that may worsen during colder weather, aggressive shedding, or difficulty seeing or hearing. It’s always best to get the jump on these medical issues beforehand by taking your dog to the vet to discuss treatment options and make preparations around the house to keep your dog comfortable.
Dogs have a body temperature of around 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is slightly higher than the 98.6 degree Fahrenheit body temperature of people. Dogs can often manage better in cold weather than humans, but there are limits to how cold dogs can get. If your dog’s temperature falls below 99 degrees or rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you should strongly consider taking your dog to the vet before initiating full-on panic mode. The causes for potential hypothermia (low body temperature) or hypothermia (high body temperature) can range from the lack of adequate heating or the overabundance of heating, whether from cranking up the thermostat or too much insulated clothing. A more serious concern to your dog’s high body temperature would be from a fever or infection, which would also require a trip to the vet.
If your dog looks cold or hot, try checking your pet’s temperature by using a thermometer instead of your dog’s nose. Touching your dog’s nose won’t accurately tell you your dog’s temperature, but it’s probably a good way to get your hand bitten, if you’re into that sort of thing. Vets recommend using a fancy digital thermometer, like ones used on humans, or a thermometer with a flexible end, like ones also used on humans. It’s best not to use a mercury thermometer because it may break, be stuck inside your pet, and cause more harm.
Groom or Doom
As mentioned, dogs can often manage better in the cold because they’re better insulated with their thick coat. Bigger dogs also fare better because the more fat they have the more insulation they’ll have against the cold. On the other hand, smaller dogs and leaner dogs without a thick coat are more susceptible to drops in temperature. For this reason, it’s best to hold off grooming your dogs during the winter and let them grow out their coats. The thicker the coat will mean the warmer they’ll be during the winter. For hairless dogs or dogs without much fat on them, look into buying dog sweaters in appropriate sizes; dog sweaters and jackets will help keep your pet warm when you’re outdoors or when you’re without a heater indoors. If you’re more used to colder temperatures than your dog–congrats! Keep that dog sweater on your tiny pooch and you’ll be able to save on your heating bill.
Be sure to trim the hair around your dog’s paw pads, however, to prevent ice and snow from building up between footpads. Check for cuts and cracks after outdoor walks to keep your dog’s paws in good shape. If the ground is extra cold, icy, or snowy, dog booties are a good option for your pet. If your dog won’t wear booties, you can always clean their paws off to remove any salt or chemicals used to treat snow covered sidewalks before it irritates your dog. If you have to wash your dog, consider doing it indoors and try to dry off your dog quickly.
What Happens Inside Stays Inside
Your best option during the winter is to keep your dogs indoors. If you’re both stuck inside, play with your dog and do indoor activities to keep your dog active and happy. These things will insure that your dog is adequately sheltered and protected from outside conditions without severely restricting your pet’s lifestyle. There are also a few concerns to keep in mind, however, especially if you’re running a heater indoors. There are practical heater safety concerns to be aware of and knowing what is the best temperature setting for your dog.
If you’ve got a built-in heater unit or fireplace, get it inspected to make sure there aren’t any gas leaks or venting blockages that will emit dangerous fumes back into the house. If you’re using a space heater, make sure to keep your dog safely away from the unit. Some space heaters can be hot to the touch and may burn your dog if your dog hits or brushes up against it. If your dog is wearing a sweater, it might not be the best idea for your dog to get too close for too long because the sweater fibers may begin to burn, resulting in an unfortunate hot dog.
Knowing your dog is the key to finding the best temperature setting to keep you and your dog happy. Of course, some dogs do better in cold weather than others, which is why a little research goes a long way. Dogs like Siberian Huskies and Tibetan Terriers do well out in cold conditions, but breeds like Greyhounds and smaller toy dogs require more warmth. Turning up the thermostat may be great for quickly bringing up the temperature to a comfortable level, but dogs can’t handle a lot of stagnant and dry air or wild fluctuations in temperature. If your dog is panting faster than Dom DeLuise at a buffet, that’s a clear indicator that your dog is overheated.
Dogs don’t sweat or “glisten” through their skin like humans do because they are insulated by their coat. To regulate their body temperature, dogs pant to eliminate excess heat from their bodies. The more a dog pants, the more heat the dog is trying to expel from their body. The way panting works is pretty simple and explains why dogs have wet noses:
- Dogs breathe in through their nose and moisture is collected by the tissue
- The moisture from their wet nose captures the body heat generated and is exhaled through the mouth
So, if you see your dog aggressively panting, turn down the thermostat until your pet gets comfortable. Afterwards, try increasing or decreasing the temperature in the house to see which setting your dog is most comfortable at. If you’re leaving the house, try to keep it at that comfortable dog setting, but be mindful of drying out the air in the room. Some programmable heaters and thermostats will have timers you can set that will shut off after a preset time or will operate intermittently to keep the room at a specific temperature without having to run all day.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!
Try to limit how much time your dog spends outside, especially if the weather is bad or your dog is smaller or doesn’t have enough insulation. Some quick tips for going outside during a harsh winter season:
- Take shorter walks
- Take care of your dog’s paws
- Wipe down your dog to remove salt, anti-freeze, or any other harmful substances
- Keep your dog on a leash so your dog doesn’t wander into dangerous areas like thin ice
If your dog is an outdoor dog, or you prefer not to have your dog inside of the house, make sure your dog has an adequate shelter. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate of a dog house that Al Bundy once had to build–with plumbing and handicap access–but your dog’s house should have good insulation and be protected from rain, snow, and wind. If you live in an area that does rain or snow a lot, raise the floor up a little higher off the ground. A good dog house should also have a good, bed for its occupant. There are some dog beds equiped with heating pads, but anything warm and comfortable will help your dog a lot. If you wanted to go the extra step, there are some dog house heaters that will warm an area up to 32 cubic feet that may be worth looking into.
Nevertheless, if there’s a powerful storm outside, it’s still best to consider bringing your dog inside the house. When it comes to your precious, it’s better to be safe than sorry.